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Jun 4, 2014

Square peg in a round hole

Bobby Robson banned the press from the England camp in the build up to Italia '90 because he viewed their contributions as disruptive to the national team. That was England's last half-decent tournament, although they were extremely lucky at the time. It is a decision than does not get much mention nowadays.

As England's players prepare for the rigours of another World Cup, the nation is once again being whipped into frenzy over the minutiae of England's first 11 players and their tactics. Where once the debate was over Darren Anderton or David Beckham or Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard, now we are asked to consider the virtues of playing Wayne Rooney on the left.

The subject has grown larger than it might have done because it became a sticking point between Sir Alex Ferguson and Rooney during the former's final years at Manchester United.

- Okwonga: LVG silence speaks volumes
- Hodgson: Rooney can play wide

Ferguson became famous for two reasons: winning things and falling out with people. He has done both of those with Rooney. Rooney is on the record as saying he prefers playing as a central striker: "I've had no problem playing out of position in the past, but I'm a forward and felt I deserved the right to play in my position."

From these quotes we can take that Rooney feels he has reached a level in the pecking order where he can choose where he plays. Seen in that light, it seems obvious why he fell out with Ferguson.

That disagreement was largely over Rooney being asked to play in midfield rather than drop in from the left. The left side is actually a position that suits Rooney, as it invites him to cut inside and unleash his thunderous right boot on to the ball. There also isn't a right back alive who knows what to do with him.

England's Wayne Rooney has not impressed at World Cups, but now is his chance.
Wayne Rooney once complained about being used out of position for Manchester United.

Rooney had his biggest success playing on the left in 2008 for United in a team that also contained Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez. No disrespect to Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge, but they are not of the same class as those two.

At present, Rooney is regaining match fitness and one can't escape the idea that all this attention is unhelpful to both him and the England team. Much has been made of Rooney's desire to play through the middle at United and for England. Very little has been made of his desire to simply play well.

Many dislike Rooney for the amount of money he earns and because he does not behave like Mother Theresa in his spare time. At times such as this, perhaps he deserves his wage packet because of the amount of scrutiny his life is subjected to. One wonders if the England team might do a little better if they were simply allowed to get on with their jobs.

It would take an absurdly skewed view to suggest that Rooney is not England's best football player. He has been so for some time. The build up for this tournament is the same as any other. An exercise in how the attitudes of the nation conspire to undermine the sportsmen they have sent to represent them.

Roy Hodgson has batted away the endless stream of questions admirably. It must be more than irksome for a man with 40 years of experience in his profession to have every man in an armchair or pub scream his team selection at him.

"Remember Moscow" was the message Wayne Rooney sent to Cristiano Ronaldo on the eve of this year's Champions League final. In 2008, Rooney played from the left all season and it remains a happy memory for him.

Playing there is unlikely to be a problem for him now. But that won't stop everybody doing his thinking for him.